He was there.
Standing in the cereal aisle at the grocery store.
His cropped hair, dark.
Eyes even darker.
Jaw clean and sharp.
He was looking at Rice Chex and waiting with a couth eye for exactly what he knew would come.
Sita arrived in aisle four, her arms wrapped around a dozen eggs, a half gallon of milk dangling in her hand. Beside boxes with leprechauns, rabbits and elves hawking their sugar coated delights, she stood, frozen, debating whether a woman her age should be buying frosted flakes or something more responsible, wavering in that moment not just about her breakfast choices, but the path of lunch, dinner, and everything beyond.
One doesn’t expect to meet the devil while shopping for cereal. We think his reddened grin will creep up on us while we dwell in the abyss misery, not while we’re contemplating our whole grain, fiber rich options. But that Tuesday afternoon, the Price of Darkness leaned past Sita and reached for that same box that she had her eye on.
“I love these things,” he said as he glanced her way with a smile that simultaneously spoke of triviality, yet also seemed to say “I know who you are.”
She smiled back, took a box for herself and nodded, for she knew him too.
In the parking lot, her cart rattling with a faulty wheel, she saw him again. He was loading his trunk with the groceries of a middle aged man.
“Enjoy your frosted flakes,” she called, as if she were a clumsy girl at fifteen.
“Absolutely.” He smiled again.
And from there they began, talking about weather and civic involvement and the price of gasoline, but they both knew these words were just costumes for a deeper message that passed between their eyes:
“I know you.”
“I know you”
“I know you.”
He did not need to make an effort, nor did she for future meetings to occur, for the collaboration of external forces, these unseen hands of life and fate, seemed to guide them.
One morning over iced Americanos he said to her, straight and clear:
“Sita, I’m the devil.”
“But of course,” she laughed.
It was then that he began to talk. Sita listened. Intently. She was entranced by the way he understood suffering, the way he could see exactly what everyone desired. She marveled at his disdain for humanity and the way he could control it all.
She didn’t falter. She was not afraid. To her he was like a dark, seductive snake coming in close. She liked how he moved, concealed so slightly by blades of grass, his tongue flickering as he spoke. She didn’t question his words, the way he boasted about his skills of studying and devouring his prey.
An espresso machine hissed behind them and Sita slipped in to the sound. This married woman with a loving heart had been in a dilemma, not just of which cereal to buy, but which life she should live. She yearned for the freedom of no longer having to live a self-imposed notion of goodness…of being the one who must bring light to a room, mend broken backs, and soiled hearts.
For here, in front of her was the antidote.
Here was her mirrored opposite.
Greed, anger, jealousy, revenge – the things she resisted and loathed about herself were his daily companions. His closest friends.
So one day she went to his home. There amidst his tidy walls, his carefully made bed, she gave in to her cereal box needs. With no regard for what she would lose, she let his precise, planned version of passion make its way in, calculated, controlled. She let this creature of the night take her breath, choke her, swallow her whole.
But all the while she smiled…and laughed, for the first time in maybe her whole life, she allowed darkness to rule, without guilt. Freedom spoke. She was no longer a slave to the plastic goodness to which she had bound herself.
But one does not sleep with a lion and expect to not be scratched.
Her husband knew what had happened the moment he saw her. Without falter, he asked her to leave. He was not angry, simply just broken.
So she moved into a home where the sounds of loneliness echoed against the walls.
Then one day the Prince of Darkness returned.
In her new bed, in a house without family, she once again allowed the devil’s skin, marked in alabaster and blue to meet her own.
There both of them tried desperately to get their fill and as they did she watched his face. It was not the familiar one of power and mastery, but a look of smallness, sadness. And as her body moved obdedient with the pulses of his, she observed his starkness, and it occurred to her that perhaps what she saw was not him at all, but herself.
Shocked to see the depth of her own pain marked on another’s face, she starred, transfixed. Harsh pain and the beauty of loneliness danced before her eyes. Swept now fully into the tornado between them, she felt as the rhythms he pounded out melting into the rhythms of the world. Hunger, dissatisfaction, greed, jealousy, self-loathing were conjured on her ceiling, upon the walls.
As she felt herself peak, she could now see in her mind’s eye her own empty wound of dissatisfaction, her lifetime of paper grins, self-hatred, and the forced flat happiness she expected of those around her. And as she watched the man who called himself the devil fight to relieve his pain within her, the truth arose.
She had become exactly what she feared.
He finished incomplete, a lion without a kill. She watched as he put on his shirt, fixed his hair. They talked about the weather, civic involvement, and the price of gasoline and she walked him to the door.
Two months have passed and the devil is gone. He has moved on to more promising prey, new forms of deception, self-torment, new spaces to burn.
But for her, in the place where scorched souls lay, life is coming. With diligence and love her new home is now filled with flowers, butterflies dance on her walls, and she breathes in the joy of no longer denying the unnamable spaces in her heart.
She has met the devil, seen his truth. And she knows, in the barren land of honesty – anger dissolves into sadness. Addiction, greed, and lust dissolve into wounds of lost love. And for this reason the woman, in her new home of butterflies and daisies, eats her sugar coated cereals and dances with light, for she knows there is nothing to fear. She has peered into the darkness, held its hand, looked in the mirror, seen its sadness and finally understands the horrific elegance of loss, hunger, and love.